Thursday, June 30, 2016

'The greatest asset a manager can give an artist is honesty'

Written by Tim Ingham — MBW’s Manager Of The Month celebrates some of the artist managers doing great things in the global business. This month, we’re delighted to sit down with Peter Rudge – a key player at Vector Management and a man whose career has seen him look after The Who, The Rolling Stones and Diana Ross. Manager Of The Month is supported by INgrooves Music Group.

“Everything’s groundhog day in this business. There’s no situation you can throw at me that I haven’t, at some point or another, dealt with in the past.”

Peter Rudge holds a pedigree of working with true rock’n’roll royalty.

A Cambridge graduate with a degree in history, British veteran Rudge has combined a sharp intellect with shrewd deal-making across more than four decades in the music biz – earning the loyalty of some of the biggest acts on earth.

After leaving university in 1968, Rudge joined the London-based Track label, whose roster included Jimi Hendrix and Marc Bolan.

From there, he built relationships with two huge artists as tour manager for the Rolling Stones and The Who – going on to manage both groups outright for most of the ’70s, while also working with Roger Waters, Duran Duran and Madness.

“With The Stones and The Who I was lucky,” says Rudge. “In that instance, I managed to work with bands that could have done it without me.”

This was a heady time for the young exec, who also worked with Diana Ross and even produced Andy Warhol’s US cable TV show.

However, Rudge‘s career hasn’t been without its sadness.

In 1977, he was managing an on-the-rise Lynyrd Skynyrd. Just as the Southern rock band stood on the verge of a worldwide breakthrough, they were involved in a tragic plane crash in Mississippi, killing three members of the group.

Understandably, it’s the moment Rudge marks as the toughest of his professional and personal life to date.

In the modern era, Rudge has shown himself to be a smart operator – and, crucially, one who knows his limits.

In the late ’90s, he merged his own management roster with marketing giant Octagon, where he began working with the likes of record-breaking operatic group Il Divo – whom he continues to represent today.

He went on to launch Proper Artist Management in conjunction with Live Nation – before Proper itself merged with Vector Management (The Kings Of Leon, Kesha, Emmylou Harris) in 2014.

These days, Rudge looks after the likes of Imelda May, currently working on a new record with T Bone Burnett, and Nick Mulvey – the Fiction-signed, Mercury-nominated singer/songwriter who, we’re told, is tinkering in the studio with Brian Eno.

Then there’s also Il Divo, who recently sold out five dates at the Budokan in Tokyo, and Alfie Boe – currently starring on Broadway in Finding Neverland, and readying a new project with Michael Ball signed up by Universal/Decca.

Yet the artist with whom Rudge is most closely associated today is a band he’s worked with for 30 years: Tim Booth-fronted Manchester heroes James.

The reason for Rudge‘s status as MBW’s Manager Of the Month becomes clear: James are currently romping around Europe on a sold-out tour, following the successful release of latest album Girl At The End Of The World, which recently hit No.2 on the Official UK chart – a smidgen behind Adele’s 25.

The release was put together on an ‘artist services’ basis with BMG, whose Korda Marshall says: “Peter’s experience has been a real benefit to the strategy and planning of the campaign. I think our respective teams have learned a lot from each other.

“He combines that experience with a freshness and enthusiasm and desire to get things done.

“I think what he likes at BMG is that its a very honest and open working relationship. And you have to remember he has managed the band for 30 years – his standards are high.”

MBW sat down with Peter to grab some insight into these high standards – and to discover what the best part of half a century in management has taught him…

You’ve been with James for over three decades. That’s a long time to work with any rock star…

I know – you get less for murder! I’ve worked with James from 1992 and it’s been one of my career’s great privileges.

I was brought in to look after America because I was spending most of my time there back then.

As luck would have it, that was during the time they were recording Laid, which of course was a seminal record in America – at one point we’d shipped over a million albums.

As Sit Down has become a rite of passage for young people in the UK, Laid [the track] has become in America, helped by the fact it’s used in the American Pie films.

For the past 11 years, Meredith Plant’s been my co-manager on James and she should take much of the credit.

We’ve managed the live thing very well over the years. It helps that we’ve had one promoter forever: Simon Moran.

James were one of the first bands Simon ever promoted when he started, and we all think a lot of him – he’s been as much as partner as anybody.

We also work with John Giddings at Solo, who’s done a great job.

Why have you signed James to BMG – and on an artist services deal – for their past two albums?

We’ve been playing at this ‘artist services’ thing for some time. Funnily enough, James’s Hey Ma album, which came out on Mercury [in 2008], was actually released on a similar model.

We realised that a band which has managed to have a lifespan this long eventually hits a glass ceiling. As we all know, it’s a very fickle industry.

When that happens at the major labels, you’re consigned almost immediately to the commercial marketing divisions – repackaging this and that, budget pricing…

We went to Mercury for Hey Ma, who had our catalogue, and tried to design something similar we have with the BMG Rights thing now.

We did a joint venture deal with Mercury; [Universal’s] Adam Barker was really good, as was Jason Iley [now Sony Music UK boss], who was in charge of the label back then.

The model we picked was a little bit of a hybrid – it felt like the runt of the litter within the Universal system. However, it showed us that this may be the way to go. We took a rest, and then started talking to BMG.

It was pretty apparent from the beginning that BMG’s ambition was right, the model was interesting, but they didn’t quite have the resources they do today [for the release of previous James album, La Petite Morte in 2014)]. That’s why we partnered with Cooking Vinyl – with Martin [Goldschmidt].

That album was pretty successful. We liked it, James were allowed creative input [into the campaign]; it was a very respectful relationship.

Then, to BMG’s credit, they brought Korda Marshall in. Also, Thomas Haimovici had been there a while and, I have to say, immediately related to the group well.

James, like many bands, usually won’t allow an A&R guy in the parking lot, let alone in the studio! But Thomas got their trust and respect – he was very helpful and didn’t undermine anything.

Then Korda, coming from Infectious, arrived at BMG with a philosophy that was very akin to James’s own. And that also brought in Pat Carr and Jo Power, who are both great marketing people.

We’ve now signed a new deal, including options. Most [services] deals are on a one album basis, but we’ve established a long-term relationship.

Let’s talk about your business experiences. Why did you merge your company Proper with Live Nation?

In the late ’90s, I’d teamed up with Octagon, an IPG company. I thought then, and I was right, that you could see the writing was on the wall for small management companies.

As the labels imploded, management companies would have to take up much of the slack and smaller ones without resource wouldn’t be able to survive.

I looked at Octagon, and thought, ‘That’s the new landscape.’ I needed to be in bed with someone that had access to [ad agencies] Deutsch, McCann Erickson etc.

In the end, it didn’t really work because [advertising] operates on a totally different timeline to music; it’s a very different world – and a different culture. It was a great learning experience for me, though.

I hooked up with Il Divo during that time, which frankly I probably wouldn’t have got without the promise of McCann Erickson and [ad] companies investing in them.

One of my oldest friends in the business, Irving Azoff, was then Live Nation’s management division.

We bumped into each other and he said: ‘Why don’t you come and be with us?’ And I knew that was where I wanted to go.

There are a lot of stories and a lot of opinions about Irving, but he’s a great manager – a fantastic manager. Always has been.

Then Irving left [Live Nation in late 2012] and [Michael] Rapino took over the management side. Although I was operating as Proper, Live Nation still owned a chunk of my business.

After Irving went, Rapino re-calibrated the artist management platform and built it around three central parts: Roc Nation, Maverick and Vector.

I’d been a friend of [Vector President] Jack Rovner for years since when I used to manage Roger Waters. We decided to go into partnership together, and I set up Vector over here in Europe.

How do you find being part of Live Nation – both before the Vector move and now – when you’ve been an independent force for much of your career?

To be honest, I get the best of both worlds. It’s essentially given me what any manager now needs: a larger footprint internationally, and a much larger bandwidth.

I can access resources that I would never have been able to use before – in the digital world, in the branding world, in the sync world. I’m lucky.

I’ve been a manager for 40 years in this business. I’ve got my own relationships; people know me.

My track record means I’m usually seen as a safe pair of hands.

My Rolodex is big; I’m two or three calls away from anybody. That’s the only good thing about getting old – you grow up with everybody else!

It’s funny: I must have lived through 25 Presidents of Columbia Records during my career, while dealing with the same promoters in the UK and US for pretty much the entire time.

That tells you something about the live business; it’s just a different DNA.

What’s been the proudest moment and most difficult moment of your career?

Management’s very lonely.

Success has many fathers, and failure none. Before you put every album out the artist thinks it’s going to be No.1, or go down brilliantly.

After a record has collapsed when you’ve had high expectations, when the phone stops ringing and everyone moves on to the next release, it’s hard.

Sometimes it feels like labels sell products, while managers try to develop careers. There’s been some lows because of that.

The first thing I ever did in the music business of any substance was The Who with Tommy – and the first gig I ever did in America was The Who at Metropolitan Opera House.

I was 23 years old, looking through the Yellow Pages to find the Met. I got through to the General Manager, and talked him into allowing me to see Rudolph Bing who was running the Met in those days. I completely blagged it.

Rudolph agreed for The Who to play [the Met] on July 7, 1970. Pete Townshend smashed his guitar on stage that night, leaving a room full of people gasping.

That to me was my greatest achievement – but then it was my first one and I’ve tried to live up to it ever since.

A perfect bookend to that story is that we are now in negotiations to stage the classical version of Quadrophenia at the Met next year; the version of the show which opened with the fantastic Alfie Boe playing Jimmy at the Royal Albert Hall last year, a show featuring Pete Townshend, Phil Daniels, Billy Idol and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

I’m also very proud of Il Divo – we’ve sold over 30 million albums across the world with barely a spin at radio or a single bit of positive press. Working with them has taught me more about selling records than any other project I’ve done. We’re into our 13th year together and they’ve remained on Syco the entire time.

And of course I’m very proud of being part of keeping James in the game for 30 years. Most of their contemporaries from that Manchester scene have either disappeared or are just going around and around [on reunion tours].

James still push themselves to be contemporary and relevant – and that’s something which has been authenticated with this album.

My saddest moment was obviously the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash. I’d been part of taking them from a club band up and up – I put them on The Who tour and it was a big moment.

We did really well; Southern Rock was still pretty parochial at that stage.

Two weeks after that plane crash they were due to headline the Madison Square Garden in front of 18,000 people. It was never to be.

On a personal level, that plane crash is the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, period.

The Stones. The Who. Diana Ross. You have worked with some strong characters! How do you deal with it when things go wrong?

I always say to any prospective client that my greatest value to an artist is honesty and objectivity.

People will tell me things they’ll never tell you, as an artist, and it’s my job to be straight with you.

Just as in life, a relationship is never tested until you disagree.

For me to disagree with you as an artist doesn’t mean to say I don’t believe in you. I understand what you’re saying, but I recommend another course of action.

I’m in the industry 24/7. I have been for 40 years. I know how this business works. As an artist, you come in and out of it – sometimes every two or three years.

When you explain that, artists tend to respect you. They don’t always like you, but there are too many people in this business who say yes, yes, yes – and it comes back to bite you on the ass.

What advice would you give young managers today?

Don’t kid yourself that you have all the answers – no-one does.

You should find an ally, and if it’s necessary for you to partner with someone who you feel has more experience or relationship that will help your artist, it will only help you in the long run.

There’s no doubt that young guys who were there at a start of a success often get removed [by bigger or more experienced players] so you need to try and neutralize that before it has a chance of happening.

That’s why finding a home or a nest is not a bad idea. No-one’s going to take all the money so long as you deal with the right people.

But the first port of call with all young managers is: go find a lawyer who’s going to protect you, advise you and make sure the paperwork is right.

Don’t be adamant to do it all yourself if you don’t feel qualified.

You were 70 a few weeks ago. I’m sure you could spend your life on a beach if you liked. Why do you still keep doing what you do in music?

I’m still really enjoying it. A month like the past month with James is everything I ever wanted to do.

30 years with a great band like that, and still seeing them get a nod, it means a lot to me.

That’s all I ask for as a manager – for my artists to get the shot they deserve.

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